Jury finds former NASA executive guilty in shooting death of Springfield neighbor

A former NASA executive who is accused of shooting his neighbor in Springfield, Virginia, with whom he had an ongoing dispute, has been found guilty of first-degree murder.

Michael Hetle, 52, was found guilty of shooting Javon Prather, 24, seven times. The shooting was captured by a Ring doorbell camera.

Hetle claimed he feared for his life when Prather came knocking on the door of his home, but prosecutors called it a coldblooded execution.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said the evidence was pretty clear and the jury agreed that it was “not self-defense, that it was murder in the first degree, which is murder with malice and murder with premeditation.”

Although the facts would have come out one way or the other, Descano said that being able to show the jury what happened from the video footage was a big part of getting the murder conviction.

“Being able to actually show the jury what happened and actually being able to show the demeanor and the seven shots I think really brought home to the jury the malice of getting this first-degree murder conviction,” Descano said.

Hetle was also found guilty of using a weapon in commission of a felony.

Descano said that while the verdict will not return Prather — who had served in the Maryland National Guard — to his loved ones, he hoped that the conviction brings Prather’s family some “small measure of peace.”

Hetle and Prather had simmering disputes since 2016, with Hetle repeatedly complaining and calling police about barking dogs and loud music.

Descano said that evidence submitted during trial revealed that “racial animus was a contributing factor” in Hetle’s actions, citing evidence from Hetle’s son about how the defendant referred to Prather and his wife, among other things that Descano said the jury found compelling.

“The message that I would have to the community is to remember that we all are one community. We all live here together, and Fairfax County is one. We should continue to remember that,” Descano said.

Hetle’s sentencing is scheduled on Jan. 28, 2022, and Descano said he is planning to seek a life sentence.

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Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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